Everybody wants to know.
Can the Marietta College baseball team repeat as national champions?
Well, let's just say from my point of view, I wouldn't ever bet against the favored Pioneers (43-7), especially after the way the defending champions performed in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament and the Mideast Regional Tournament at Don Schaly Stadium.
Forget about jinxing the Etta Express, that's baloney. Teams are going to have to outplay the Pioneers on the diamond to beat them, and that's not easily done. Just ask good teams like Heidelberg University and Manchester (Ind.) College.
"Marietta College has a tremendous team," said Heidelberg head coach Matt Palm after the Student Princes dropped a 4-3 decision to the Pioneers in the Ohio Athletic Conference Tournament final at Don Schaly Stadium on May 12. "The bottom line, they're going to be in every game. They play great defense and they've got frontline pitching. Offensively, they're very athletic as well."
So far, Marietta, which is scheduled to play Whitworth (Wash.) University in its World Series opener at Fox Cities Stadium in Grande Chute, Wis., at 8:45 p.m. tonight, is 9-1 in postseason play in May.
Plus, MC has a plethora of marquee players like Austin Blaski, Brian Gasser, Mike Mulvey, Tim Saunders, Aaron Hopper, Kyle Lindquist, Evan Brockmeier, Kirby Becker, Alex Toth, and the list of names could go on and on.
There's just so much talent - and a lot of it is sitting on the bench.
"They've got that 'MC' on the uniform, and there's something to that," said Manchester (Ind.) College skipper Rick Espeset after the Spartans dropped a 7-3 decision to the Pioneers in the Mideast Regional final last Sunday.
"I know their kids are no different than our kids," Espeset continued, "but when they put on that Marietta College uniform, they look a little different."
Different maybe, but that "MC" is not an "S" and none of the Pioneer players wear a cape and can fly. They're not Supermen, but they are obviously pretty fair country ballplayers - which goes without saying - competing in an elite program with a very storied history that includes five national titles.
"They just have a different expectation, which is a credit to Coach (Don) Schaly and Coach (Brian) Brewer," Espeset said, "They're coached well."
"I'm amazed at how Coach Brewer handles the club," the Spartans coach continued, "because they have to feel pressure with all the expectations. It has to be on them."
Thing is, though, Marietta thrives on it - and always has. The Pioneers trailed early on in every regional game but one - and came back. Needless to say, it's hard to keep a very good team like MC down.
So back to the original question: Can Marietta repeat?
"I wouldn't be surprised if they can bring home another national championship," Espeset said. "But I also think in D3 baseball, there's a ton of parity in it. There's a couple of new teams that qualified (for the World Series) and maybe they might be in a little awe."
The Whitworth Pirates are one of those new teams at the D3 World Series, and Marietta has them tonight.
The two schools have never played each other on the diamond before.
That was also the case when MC faced St. John Fisher of Rochester, N.Y., the first time in the Mideast Regional, and the Pioneers dropped a 5-2 decision to the Cardinals.
To date, that's been Marietta's only setback in 2012 postseason play.
The Pioneers naturally are hoping that will be their only one. Period.
Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor and can be reached at 376-5441 or at firstname.lastname@example.org